How Bolas were used by Indigenous tribes in Chile

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Historically, the genocide against the indigenous tribes in Chile has been well documented. The Spanish invasion of the Inca Empire led to 7,700,000 indigenous deaths from 1533 to 1572. Yes, 3,000 Spanish soldiers destroyed the entire history of South America and wiped out over 7 million residents of the land. However, this article will explore an innovative weapon of the past the Inca army used against contemporary Spanish weapons – the Bolas.

A bolas is a throwing weapon made of weights on the ends of random interconnected cords, used to capture animals by trapping their legs. Bolas was most popularly utilized by the gauchos (South American Cowboys) but have been discovered in excavations of Pre-Columbian settlements, particularly in Patagonia, where indigenous peoples (especially the Tehuelche) used them to catch 200-pound guanaco (llama-like mammals) and ñandú (birds). The Mapuche and the Inca army vividly used them in battle. Mapuche fighters used bolas in their confrontations with the invading Chilean army.

Gauchos used boleadoras to catch running cattle. Depending on the exact design, the thrower grasps the boleadora by one of the weights or by the nexus of the cords. The thrower gives the balls momentum by swinging them and then issues the boleadora. The weapon is normally used to entangle the animal’s legs, but when thrown with enough force, it might even inflict damage (e.g., breaking a bone).

Traditionally, Inuit have used bolas for hunting birds, fouling the birds in the air with the lines of the bola. However, during the Spanish invasion of the Inca Empire, the latter didn’t have enough weapons to battle the mighty Spanish army.

So, they moved to Bolas. Bolas of three weights are designed with two shorter cords with heavier weights and one longer cord with a lightweight. These three weights Bolas were used to break the Spanish Army’s legs, and it is estimated that Bolas resulted in around 200 broken bones. Yes, 200 intruders lost their legs when they tried to crush and annihilate the indigenous population. A glimmer of hope? Maybe not.

Sadly, the repeated battles against Spain were a must-lose one for the Incas. The Bolas couldn’t save them against the Spanish aggression. In 1572, the Viceroy of Peru, Francisco Toledo, declared a final war on the Neo-Inca State; Vilcabamba was sacked, and Túpac Amaru, the last Inca Emperor, was captured and executed in Cuzco. The Bolas, however, survived the war, and they’re currently kept in Museums. The Bolas perhaps withstood invasion to tell a tale of Spanish brutality. Perhaps.

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